Enter stage left, at least 6 feet apart! Visit the County Seat Theater in Cloquet, MN as they navigate staging a performance amid the pandemic on this edition of The Slice.

Francy that: Theater is a shining gem in the area

We had seen the flyers around town and the articles in the Pine Knot in the six years after we moved to Carlton County. We never managed to attend a performance of the County Seat Theater until our granddaughter was in a cast. Little did we know what an entertainment treasure we have in our midst.

“To be or not to be; that is the question,” is the oft repeated line in the theater’s recent production of “Women Playing Hamlet.”

That has not been a question for the community theater group these past 37 years, according to Ruth Stewart, a founding member who shared the story of the group’s beginning.

In 1987, a group of Carlton High School parents decided to raise funds for band uniforms by performing a play with and for the community. It was so successful that they chose to continue the endeavor, and in 1991 they organized as a nonprofit entity. Stewart said that Cheryl Kramer-Milder, an original member, suggested they name their organization.

“Gunard Ramstead is the one that came up with the name. Because we were in Carlton, he decided it was the county seat, and so we should be the County Seat Theater. We also had a name for our group and that was the Seat of Your Pants Players,” Stewart said.

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County Seat takes home regional awards

The County Seat Theater Company recently took their Minnesota “Best of Festival” one-act production of “Tracks” on the road to Salina, Kansas for the American Association of Community Theatre Region V Festival. The April 20-23 event featured six shows from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.

“What an absolute honor it was to be able to have our show performed at this level. Especially amongst so many wonderful productions,” said co-director Joel Soukkala. “To hear the positive feedback from the adjudicators, audience members and fellow performing theaters, and to come home with well-deserved accolades makes all the hard work even more rewarding.”

The County Seat Theater Company was one of two Minnesota theaters that advanced from the Minnesota Association of Community Theaters one-act play state festival.

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County Seat earns best show honor at state festival

Attending its first statewide one-act play festival since 2019, the County Seat Theater Company took home top honors this past weekend for its performance of “Tracks,” by Peter Tarsi.

The Cloquet-based community theater group won Best of Festival at the biannual Minnesota Association of Community Theatres one-act play festival in Glenwood, Minnesota.

The acting troupe also won the following awards: Outstanding Achievement by an acting Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Directing to husband and wife duo Jenn and Joel Soukkala, Outstanding Achievement in Scenic Design to Joel Soukkala and Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design to Jenn Soukkala.

“It was so gratifying to see all their hard work and talent recognized and rewarded,” said the theater’s artist director Greg Anderson. “This was yet another example of how much this area and this theater have to offer.”

“Tracks” is a 50-minute drama wherein a group of strangers meet in a dirty subway station with no recollection of how they got there or where they are going. Each person has arrived with limited personal belongings and they all claim to be in different cities and have no sense of time. Soon they learn there is no way out of the station, and discover an unfortunate truth, which raises even more questions.

County Seat and its production of “Tracks” will advance to the Region 5 festival hosted by the American Association of Community Theaters in Salina, Kansas, April 20-23.

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County Seat Theater Company – The Little Theater That Grew

The Encore Performing Arts Center and Gallery has been the home of the County Seat Theater Company since 2008. Located at 2035 Hwy 33 south (on the frontage road), the theater seats 135 patrons on raised seating. The Art Gallery located in the back of the theater is an excellent opportunity for local artists to display and sell their work. Each season is packed with plays and concerts. The theater’s mission is to provide an opportunity for all individuals of all ages to participate in all aspects of the performing arts, bring quality live theater to the community, and promote the performing arts.


The story of the “Little Theater That Grew,” County Seat Theater

In October 1987, a fledgling community theater was a Carlton High School Band Booster fundraiser. It was a unique idea, “Let’s put on a play!” After six weeks of rehearsal for Neil Simon’s, The Odd Couple, the parking lot was filled, the show opened, and the laughs came. The community and the organizers had a wonderful experience, and the band was closer to buying those new uniforms. “Let’s do it again next year and the next!” After three years of being a school project, they decided to form a theater group with its own identity.

The County Seat Theater Company was born. They continued to perform, using the high school facility for 13 years. During those years, the season grew to include Children’s Theater, holiday and summer shows, in addition to the established fall production.

As the productions continued to grow, it was time to get out of the school and find a place to call home. They moved to a quaint little church in Atkinson Township. The first production in September 1999 was Steel Magnolias. The audiences came, and came, and came to “hold over” performances.

In January 2008, County Seat Theater purchased the former Kingdom Hall Building on the Hwy 33 frontage road and began major renovations. The location was perfect, the size was great, the condition was excellent. So much work! So much support! The birth of the Encore Performing Arts Center and Gallery, the home of the County Seat Theater Company was complete.

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It’s a ‘SWEET’ win for the County Seat Theater

The County Seat Theater Company’s production of Sweet won Best of Festival at the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres Festival held in Austin, MN this past weekend. The cast will move on to compete at the American Association of Community Theatres Region 5 competition in Aberdeen, South Dakota April 25-28.

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Roll out the red carpet — the world premiere of “Sweet” will debut in Cloquet on Friday, Sept. 28.

Written by Denise Hinson, the play tells the story of three generations of the Carter family, headed by former boxing champ “Sweet” Clemmet Carter. When an enthusiastic sports writer enters their lives asking to write a book about Clemmet’s boxing days, he discovers some family secrets are better left buried.

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The American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) is pleased to announce County Seat Theater Company is producing the AACT NewPlayFest winning play, Sweet by Denise Hinson. The world premiere will open September 28 and run through October 3, 2018. Tickets are available at or by calling the box office at 218-878-0071.

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Theater director comes full circle

Cheryl Kramer-Milder (right) goes through notes with cast members after a rehearsal of the upcoming County Seat production of “Sanders Family Christmas,” which opens Friday, Dec. 1. It is likely her last play here, because she and her husband, Frank Milder, have relocated to her home state of Nebraska after growing the County Seat Theater for the past 30 years. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal.

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